Life in Kuwait: Falaika Island
Steam rises from the pot as the rice cooks, bubbling slowly with a pop… pop…. pop. While the rice cooks, she cleans the chicken pieces, pulling the skin away from the flesh, with a sharp, shiny knife. She brushes the stray hair away from her face and tucks it back underneath her headscarf. The twins are shouting upstairs; one accusing the other of hiding their school bag. Over their shouting, she hears the banging noises of her husband opening and closing his closet. She knows he is going to wear the blue shirt today and that he is probably wondering which tie would look good with it.
Normal lives led by normal people… until 1990 when Iraq stormed Kuwait and invaded the country. On August 2 of that year, Iraqi forces attacked the island as part of their invasion of Kuwait. The island’s defenses consisted only of a small contingent of troops, which the Iraqis quickly overwhelmed, and the population was expelled.
Over the past weekend, a friend and I joined a group of curious enthusiasts who were off to visit the mysterious Falaika Island. I had heard about this place but for some reason, nobody I know had been and furthermore, from those people who had been, nobody really spoke about what was on the island. Now I know why.
After catching a ferry in Salmiya, we arrived at the island 30 minutes later. The ferry not only traveled through space but also traveled through time.
Falaika Island is a ghost town; preserved immortally to stand in solidarity with the many people who lost their lives during the Iraqi invasion. Entire neighbourhoods lay standing as they were left in 1990; debris scattered everywhere; couches, beds and toys lay among the wreckage strewn across the desolate buildings. Everywhere was empty and there was little evidence of life on the island. There seemed to be more animals than people on Falaika. The cars parked in the driveways were from the eighties… judging from the rust on the body, they haven’t been used in decades. Factory machinery lay abandoned or destroyed and our guide’s voice echoed as we walked through what used to be an electricity plant.
The worst part was seeing the shell of what used to be a school; the thought of innocent children losing their lives simply for existing unsettled me greatly. I didn’t know how to feel as I looked at the bullet holes in the walls and stepped over the remains laying on the floor. This is what war does- it destroys, it kills and it leaves behind a mess that is far deeper than what the eye can see.
The Kuwaiti government has tried to make the island more welcoming by building a lake that offers boat rides and keeping various animals on the island for people to gaze at. It doesn’t help. Falaika is eerie and if I believed in ghosts, that is most likely where they roam around, terrifying the skittish animals.
There is a Heritage Village where you can see how Kuwaiti’s used to live in times gone by. It is essentially a museum and it was interesting to see how different Kuwaitis lived back then (simply) compared to how they live now (somewhat luxuriously). The country has come a long way since then.
This day out exposed me to a whole different side of life in Kuwait… actually life in the Gulf in general. Looking at the burgeoning skyscrapers and sparkly malls in the Middle East, it’s hard to remember that these countries have a traumatic past. Hearing Kuwaitis choke up as they speak about the atrocities their country had to endure made me see Arabs as more… regular people. I know it sounds terrible but if you live in the GCC, you will know what I mean.
On the island are some ancient Greek ruins that are amidst an archeological site. Now apparently, the Greeks who knew the island as ‘Ikaros’ originally inhabited this island. Well, personally I didn’t find these ruins very impressive and worth going to visit but perhaps they would interest others. This is basically what we saw:
The best part of the day was the visit to a camel farm! I am not an animal lover (unlike the rest of my siblings) but there is something so regal and enigmatic about these creatures, don’t you think? I have had plenty of encounters with camels before, from meeting one on my first trip to Dubai in 2012 to my weekend in Qatar where I got to watch camel racing. The reason this one was special is because these were just camels in the desert- no muzzles, no chains and totally untethered. They were roaming around, minding their own business and we could roam around them too. As a person from Africa, I just love to see animals in their natural habitat, doing what animals do as opposed to being agitated in an enclosed space. The baby camels are pretty cute!
The day ended with a tent, couches and a fire burning to keep us all warm. I wanted to take pictures but my camera and phone were both dying. Not my cleverest panda moment I am afraid. The boat ride back to Salmiya (you can catch a boat just outside Marina Mall) took another quick 30 minutes and suddenly, I was back in the present day Kuwait I am familiar with. Falaika is a thought-provoking day trip for those interested in history and Kuwaiti culture. Honestly I think it’s a must do for anyone living in Kuwait; I am not sure if I would take anyone who came to visit me for a holiday simply because it is very depressing!
Getting to this island is quick with the aid of a ferry. The Kuwait Public Transport Company offers daily rides to the islet for only 3 KD. Travel time is usually ninety minutes. If you’d rather go on boats, the Heritage Village boats are at your service with high-speed catamarans, costing you 16 KD.